Manhunt Begins; Feds: Incident Reports Jump From 300 In 2005 To 2,836 In 2010

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Federal Aviation Administration launched a manhunt Monday for the person or persons that aimed a green laser at six airplanes as they landed at LaGuardia Airport over the weekend, jeopardizing the safety of the passengers and crews on board.

Police told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer that the lasers emanated from a point about five miles southwest of the airport, hitting the planes as they were over Brooklyn and Queens.

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“Distracting a pilot going into any runway at low altitude is highly dangerous. You could actually temporarily blind the pilot,” aviation expert John Trisani said.

Trisani said the incidents bunched up, with four on Friday and two on Saturday, all between 6 and 8 p.m. They are troubling because it could be more than someone just trying to harass pilots.

“That’s unusual and highly disturbing,” Trisani said. ‘Do we have people fooling around or do we have people who have bad intentions to airliners using a sighting, using a laser as a sighter, a weapon’s sighter, just to see the reaction, just to see if Homeland Security takes this seriously.”

Compounding the problem, all the planes were landing at Runway 4, one of the most difficult runways at LaGuardia.

“It requires a much more focus point,” Trisani said.

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According to the FAA, laser incident reports have increased dramatically. There were 300 reports in 2005 and 2,836 in 2010.

FAA administrator Randy Babbitt said a laser attack — the green lasers can reach over 16,000 feet into the air — can take down a plane.

“Heaven forbid we’d ever see a single pilot blinded where they couldn’t fly the airplane. It would result in the loss of the aircraft and substantial damage,” Babbitt said.

Pointing a laser into an airplane cockpit is so serious that if caught violators face federal penalties of up to $11,000.

The FAA is urging witnesses who may have seen the green lasers in the sky over the weekend to contact police.

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